Eat the Weeds
Chicory was not a common plant where I grew up or where I’ve lived for 41 years. But I remember the first time I saw it, in 1990, in a park in Alexandria, Virginia, the bedroom of Washington DC.
What was so exciting was it was textbook perfect. The chicory looked exactly what it was supposed to look like, and that happens so rarely in foraging. That bears repeating: In my decades of foraging chicory is one of two plants I did not know which when I found looked exactly as they should have. That is one reason why pictures are not as good at identifying plants as people think. A good botanical drawing has all the essential elements in representative proportions and eliminates the unnecessary.
At any rate the chicory was instantly recognizable, growing next to a little ditch, and some of the flowers went home with me for my salad. I have since raised its bitter leafy cousins, radicchio and Belgian endive.
A friend of mine now passed was a luthier. Saul repaired very expensive instruments like Stradivarius and Guarneri violins. (Holding a million-dollar violin can make you very nervous.) He only drank coffee mixed with roasted chicory root, perhaps the most well-known use of the plant. While some call chicory a coffee extender or a substitute for coffee, it is more accurate to say it is a blend that changes the overall flavor profile. If they made chicory coffee decaffeinated I would drink more of it. Caffeine and I had a medical argument at mid-life. It won thus I avoid it.
Chicory has other uses than leading coffee astray. The young leaves are edible in salads, as are the aforementioned blossoms. The flower buds can be pickled and the roots boiled and eaten, though that may take several changes of water. Blanched spring growth (raised in the dark) are not bitter.
Originally from Europe, chicory is reported throughout all of North America though I personally have never seen it here in central Florida. In my father’s native country, Greece, it’s a common wild green and picked often. As a people, Greeks still forage for greens regularly. It is as much something they do as it is foraging is something American’s don’t do. Thus there is a wide attitude between these two peoples about wild edibles. I have cousins who would be offended by the idea of buying greens. And while their patches of land might be small and scattered they tend to them religiously.
The botanical name, Cichorium intybus (see-KORE-ee-um IN-tye-buss) has a contorted history. Both words came through Greek then were bastardized by Latin. They are from ancient Persian and Egyptian for, respectively, chicory and its cousin, endive. The ancient Greeks called chicory Kichore but now use αντίδι (ahn-DEE-thee.) Intybus is from the Egyptian word “tybi” which means January, the month the vegetable was commonly eaten. But there is more to it. There was a lot of linguistic drift in the words Cichorium, chicory and Intybus. In fact, both Cichorium and chicory have the same root. Modern Greeks call it Radiki (rah-DEE-kee) the same word the use for dandelion greens.
The Greek horticulturist Dioscrorides called the large leaf version of the plant Seridos or Seris (what we would call endive.) The skinny-leaf version became kichore which eventually became the genus name, cichorium. That came from talkh shuky in Persian, meaning sour purslane. That changed to tarakhshaquq then kichore then cichorea in Latin (cichorium is the adjective form) and finally to chicory in English. Intybus is from tybi but it went from tybi to antubiya to hindaba to intybos to intybus to endivia and finally endive.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Perennial herb top five feet, large deep taproot, stems erect, often branching, leaves alternate, lance shaped broadest below the middle, to 12 inches long, three inches wide, toothed and lobed along the edge. Flowering heads up upper part of stems in the junction of smaller leaves, usually bright blue, sometimes pink or white.
TIME OF YEAR: Leaves as soon as possible in the spring, the root fall through spring. Flowers any time.
ENVIRONMENT: Like schalky soil but not fussy can be found along roads, fields, vacant lots, disturbed ground, gardens.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves for salads, crown bases boiled five minutes, roots before stalk appears boiled in several changes of water, or roasted to mix with coffee, pickle flower buds, add open flowers to salads.
I took me about a year to know the Simpson Stopper.
While most people think of Florida as flat there’s actually is a ridge down the middle of the state reportedly from dune fields created in the Pliocene Age, 2.5 to 5.3 million years ago. If you ever drive Interstate 4 from Daytona Beach to Tampa at Lakeland the highway drops over 100 feet down an ancient ocean escarpment, dramatically marking an end to a portion of the ridge. It’s flat from there southwest to Tampa, once ocean bottom.
Several species grow across the flat southern end of Florida and up both sides but not in the higher middle, which tends to be a few degrees cooler in the winter. That is the case with the Simpson Stopper aka Myricanthes fragrans (mer-see-ANTH-eez FRAY-granz) which is hardy down to 25° F, perhaps into the teens if well-established. Inland it grows to just north of Lake Okeechobee, then reaches its botanical arms north along the west coast to Tampa and St. Augustine on the east coast but not naturally up the middle of the state.
I first saw it in at the southern end of the state in Dreher Park, West Palm Beach. It was a small tree. The next time was near the manatee viewing area at Haul Over Canal near the space center, some 200 miles north, a small tree that from a distance could be mistaken for a holly. Both Stoppers were intentionally planted but in south Florida and the islands also grows wild.
I did not find the artificial mother load of Simpson Stoppers but one of my foraging students did. He asked me to visit a local Wholefood’s store in Orlando to look at the landscaping around the shopping center. He said there was a plant there he couldn’t identify. I found a quarter-mile long hedge of Simpson Stopper, in fruit.
M. fragrans is in the eucalyptus family. If you crush a leaf it does not smell of eucalyptus but rather citrusy, some think nutmeg, some think a piney citrus aroma. The blossoms are pleasantly fragrant, which helps you identify it from an unpleasant smelling relative, the Spanish Stopper. The sweet, mealy pulp of the red, ripe fruit is edible, but not the seeds as far as I know. Besides, they taste bad. That I do know. The genus is closely related to Guavas as well as Syzigums and Eugenias, In the past many species were moved in and out of these genera and at one time M. fragrans was Eugenia simpsonii. In fact, the particular plant has had some 27 genus or species name changes. E. simpsonii honored Charles Torrey Simpson, a naturalist and author in Miami in the early 1900’s.
Not only are there several “Stoppers” as they are called, but the aforementioned genera also look similar, whether in Florida or Australia. They are generally shrubs to small trees, with leaves about one to two inches long and a half inch to an inch wide. Some have rounded leaves, some have pointed leaves, some are notched. The fruit varies from a black berry to a tiny deep red berry that looks like a pumpkin (the Surinam Cherry.) Some have one or two seeds, others like the Strawberry Guava have many seeds. The fruit tastes like mild orange peeling. They can be small bushy to tall and leggy. In landscaping they are an accent species as well as good hedge material.
There are several identifying characteristics of the Simpson Stopper. Let’s start with the little ones. The orange to red fruit is often in pairs and has a little four-sided round pucker at the end (kind of like a little folded-in blueberry crown made of four triangles.) The closely related Syzigums have a wrinkled cross at the end of the fruit. The leaf of the M. fragrans is also covered with dots. Under a #10 loop the upper surface of the leaf looks like it is covered with tiny drops of water (the dots.) The underside of the leaf is often decked out in what appears to be very tiny green dots, sometimes blackish dots. If you hold the leaf to the light and use a loop you will see gold dots. The leaves can also curl under at the edge. The fruit has one or two bean-shaped seeds, two being more common, often stuck together. They are one of the favored foods of Cardinals and the Mocking Bird, which is Florida’s state bird. The sweet blossoms attract butterflies.
Also called “nakedwood” because of its smooth bark, it is often planted for its leggy multi-trunk wild growth pattern. Botanically Myricanthes fragrans means “many thorns fragrant.” In this case the “many thorns” refers to the many stamens of the flower, which is also quite fragrant.
Other “stoppers” you might come across include the rare Eugenia confusa (Redberry Stopper), the Eugenia rhomea (Redberry Stopper) whose new growth is pale red while old growth has tiny black dots on the underside of the leaves; Eugenia foetida (Redberry Stopper) whose leaves and flowers smell foul; and the White Stopper, Eugenia axillaris so called because it has light-colored bark, edible mealy fruit.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A tree to 55 feet, and 14 inches through, inner reddish brown bark, flaking, growth similar to a crape myrtle, twigs slender, brown, finely hair. Leaves to two inches long, an inch wide, opposite, finely hairy petioles, blunt or rounded at the end, sometimes notched, sometimes pointed, minute gland dots, upper surface shiny dark green, under light dull green. Flowers in clusters, many spreading white stamens, see right.
TIME OF YEAR: Can fruit and flower year round, but favors August and September.
ENVIRONMENT: Full sun to partial shade, likes to be irrigated, hardy to 25F, found often growing over limestone, shell or marl.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Pulp of ripe fruit is edible out of hand. The texture is soft and mealy. Fruit and bark are rumored to treat diarrhea when made into a tea but I’ve found no modern reference to support that.
When it comes to Carpetweed you need to know only two things: It grows nearly everywhere, or will. And the plant above ground is edible. To quote Cornucopia II, page 153:
“The entire plant can be cooked and eaten as a potherb, or added to vegetable soups during the last minutes of cooking.” Yes, I know it says “entire” plant but that usually does not include roots. When roots are edible they are usually mentioned separately.
Opinions of the species do vary. It is a fast-spreading weed from Tropical America that can survive northern winters, though there is some debate about that. Some folks say it will cover everything in sight. Merritt Fernald, left, no botanical slouch and the leading expert of his day, wrote on page 188 in Edible Plants of Eastern North America: “It is too small for most people to gather, except when very hungry.” Now you have the opinion spread: Will cover every thing in sight, and, too small to be bothered with. Fernald was not beyound eating this or that strange plant but as he wrote in WWII he was concerned about the growing population and dwindling agricultural resources.
Botanists know Carpetweed is spreading rapidly because they have herbarium examples from almost two hundred years ago and then later in other areas. It has… carpeted… North America and is working on China. There are reports of it in Australia. Carpetweed is also found in Mexico, West Indies, Central America, South America, Eurasia, and Africa. Not every place, however, is graced with Carpetweed. It is absent from Utah — too dry — and Alaska, too cold. I found no complaints out of Western Europe, yet.
Botanically the weed is called Mollugo verticillata (mol-LOO-go ver-tee-see-LAH-tuh) which for once actually makes some sense. Often a botanical name has nothing to do with the plant nor describes it. This time it does. Mollugo used to be the genus name for the Galiums, which this plant does resembles. They are better known as Goose Grass, Cheavers, and Cleavers. And verticillata refers to the whorl of leaves the plant has at each node, which goes even further back to Vermes for worms. Mollugo is Dead Latin’s bastardization of the Greek mollis which means soft. Other names in English include Green Carpetweed, Indian Chickweed, and Devil’s Grip. In China it is 种棱粟米草 or zhong leng su mi cao. Botanists have been arguing for years whether there are two genera and exactly how many species there are. Confounding the issue is the fact the plant can vary a lot in the way it looks. Botanists say it is doubful a species able to overwinter is the same as the original in Tropical America but no consensus has been reached… as if it is a pressing matter.
As far as opinions go Fernald may win. To find Carpetweed look down for a spot of green one to two feet across, low-growing, usually in dry areas. such as a college lawn watered by rain not irrigation. I think that’s where I last saw an excellent patch of it in Jacksonville at the state college there. Carpetweed can, however, cover more ground but apparently not enough to get into foraging books.
Man, by the way, is not the only nibbler: Birds and small mammals eat the seeds. Lastly consuming Carpetweed may increase your levels of nitric oxide. In theory that should lower blood pressure.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Carpetweed
IDENTIFICATION: Mollugo verticillata: It’s a late-germinating, many-branched summer annual forming circular patches one to two feet in diameter, sometimes much larger, often much less. Leaves are in whorls of 3 to 8 at each node. Leaves attach directly to the stem (sessile) widest above the middle and tapering to the base, often shiny. Don’t mistake for Galiums which show up in the spring. Galiums are rough to the touch, Carpetweed is smooth. Galiums tend to grow up into a tangled mass, Carpetweed grows low, like a carpet. Galiums were bunched up to strain cheese through. Can’t do that with Carpetweed. Stems are smooth, branch a lot, lying on the ground with the ends turning up. Flowers are very small, five white sepals (look like petals) in clusters of two to five on long stalks. Red to orange seeds in an egg-shaped capsule.
TIME OF YEAR: Warm months in northern climes nearly year round in warm climes, flowers summer to early fall
ENVIRONMENT: Fields, gardens, roadsides, moist to dry soils, sand.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: The entire plant above ground can be boiled. Leaves are more preferable; young and tender — the meristem stage — even better.
It’s only natural that humans are inventive with something that is uniquely their own: Language. A good example are those small vehicles towed behind large Recreational Vehicles. As they are towed and smaller they are called “toads.” An entire culture has evolved around towed toads. The same thing happens with plants.
Phyla nodiflora (FIE-la nod-dee-FLOR-ah) has at least two common names, Frog Fruit and Match Head. The latter is a more modern term and useage. Wooden matches were invented about 213 years ago. “Frog Fruit” like a towed toad, is a turn of tongue but much older. It started out Fog Fruit. What farmers noticed 700 years ago was that after mowing the grass for hay other species quickly came up. Those were called Fog Fruit as meadows often had fog in the early morning. By a century later Fog Fruit and dampness were connected. It was but a short hop from Fog Fruit to Frog Fruit as that particular species like to grow in damp places where fog developed and frogs like to flop about. The reference “Fog Fruit” is first found in print in the United States in 1886 (the year one of my grandfathers was born.)
To complicate matters there are actually four Frog Fruit locally, P. fruticosa, P. lanceolata, P. nodiflora, and P. stoechadifolia. The latter is woody so we can rule that one out easily. P. lanceolata is rare and found in only three counties in the spring and summer. P. fruticosa is also rare, reported in just one county, and is a tropical American native. That leaves P. nodiflora and the one you are most likely to find. Its leaves are widest above the middle. One major headache is the plant used to be in the Lippia genus and sometimes qualities of plants in that genus are ascribed to this plant now in the Phyla genus. Plants in this genus have a long history of herbal use from treating rheumatism stimulating babies to walk.
Phyla means tribe or clan. The genus was named that by Joao de Louriero, 1717-1791, because of the flowers are in a tight head. He was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, botanist, paleontologist, and mathematician who spent several decades in what is now Vietnam. Nodiflora means flowers from the nodes. As one might guess it also has a lot of common names among them Turkey Tangle, Sawtooth Frogfruit, Mat Lippia, Mat Frass, Capeweed and Creeping Charlie (as are many, many plants.) In the Verbena family it is the larval host for the Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon), White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) Barred Sulphur (Eurema daira) and Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). Good nectar source for hairstreaks.
Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Mat-forming perennial with prostrate hairy stems. Stems freely branched, rooting at the nodes. Leaves opposite with a few large teeth towards the tip, leaf widest above the middle. Flowers rose-purple or white in t a head at the tip of a long stalk resembling a match head.
TIME OF YEAR: All year
ENVIRONMENT: Damp lawns, beaches, hammocks, disturbed sites, marshes, wet pinelands and glades. Somewhat salt-tolerant. Likes sandy soil and limestone outcrops.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves boiled (not that good) or dried to make a tea (tastes grassy.)
(Yes, I, too, am a veteran thus on this Memorial Day let us think of friends and relatives and everyone’s loved ones who did not come home alive. More than a century ago the Poppy became that reminder.)
Several plants have relatives whose reputations are difficult to live down. The Natal Plum is one. Related to the Oleander the delicious plum suffers from its deadly kin’s reputation. The Corn Poppy shares a similar fate. Mention poppies today and folks think opium. Mention poppies 90 years ago and people thought World War I. The Corn Poppy is the memorial flower of veterans. Silk and paper poppies are handed out for donations to veteran causes and worn on Memorial Day. The practice began with a poem.
Canadian John McCrae was a poet who was also a surgeon and medical officer on the front lines. Sitting in an ambulance on 3 May 1915, he wrote the poem “In Flanders Field” the day after personally conducting a burial service for a friend, Alexis Helmer. At the service McCrae mentioned the poppies. After writing the poem with a pencil stub he showed it to a couple of soldiers then reportedly tossed the poem away but it was recovered by those who read the first draft. After revisions and one rejection by The Spectator it was published 8 December 1915 in Punch Magazine. The poem begins with: In Flanders fields the poppies grow.* It became the most quoted poem of the era. In 1918 an American Young Womans’ Christian Association worker (and college teacher) Moina Belle Michael was attending a YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference in New York City. She saw a copy of the Ladies Home Journal with the poem in it with its ascending illustration (below left.) Though she had read the poem many times she was struck by accompanying artwork. In her autobiography, ”The Miracle Flower, The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy” written in 1941 on the eve of World War II, she wrote:
“I read the poem, which I had read many times previously, and studied its graphic picturization. The last verse transfixed me — ‘To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields’. This was for me a full spiritual experience. It seemed as though the silent voices again were vocal, whispering, in sighs of anxiety unto anguish, ‘To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields’. Alone, again, in a high moment of white resolve I pledged to KEEP THE FAITH and always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of ‘keeping the faith with all who died’. In hectic times as were those times, great emotional impacts may be obliterated by succeeding greater ones. So I felt impelled to make note of my pledge. I reached for a used yellow envelope, turned the blank side up and hastily scribbled my pledge to keep the faith with all who died.”
So moved Michael went out that afternoon and managed to find some artificial poppies and handed out 25 keeping one herself. The tradition was born. Later Michael wrote a poem herself, “We Shall Keep The Faith.” It had the verse: We cherish too, the poppy red, that grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies, that blood of heroes never dies.”
In 1920 Anna E. Guerin, another YWCA secretary visiting from France, learned of the custom while attending an American Legion convention which was supporting the sale of poppies. Guerin decided when she returned home to hand-make the poppies and raise money to benefit orphans and widows of the war. It was she who sent a
delegation of French widows to visit British Field Marshal and former Commander-in-Chief Douglas Haig in 1921. They had poppies with them and suggested selling them to raise money for the injured and unemployed veterans. Haig, who by then was 1st Earl Haig, lent his support to the cause and himself set up the Haig Fund that still supports veterans. The practice was firmly established when several countries officially recognized the veterans’ poppy. To this day, paper poppies are assembled by needy and disabled veterans in hospitals and raise millions of dollars each year. But why the corn poppy? To answer that you have to know somethings about the species.
Poppies thrive on disturbed ground and can tolerate high amounts of lime. The plant also produces millions of seeds. The seeds can lie dormant in the ground for years until disturbed. The shelling and the trenching of the war brought them out of slumber. More so they grew where nothing else would grow, the lime-rich blasted ground of no man’s land and make-shift graves. The bright red poppies reaching out of blood-soaked ground made a lasting impression upon the generation.
For a plant with such a notorious relative the Corn Poppy has many uses. Young leaves are cooked and used like spinach, or raw as flavoring in soups and salads. The petals are used to make a red syrup used in soups or for coloring. The seeds can be used in cakes, bread, rolls, or pressed for their oil which is an excellent substitute for olive oil. Who as a child (or older) played with the poppy seeds falling off a roll? The rosette of basal leaves before the plant flowers is excellent raw as well. The unripe ovaries are also edible raw.
Like its genus mates the corn poppy has a white sap but no particular hallucinogenic qualities. It got the name “corn poppy” from a time when all agricultural grains — oats, wheat et cetera — were generally called corn. The flower grew in the disturbed ground of “corn” fields. As for the botanical name Papaver (Pap-PAY-ver) is Dead Latin for milk, in reference to its sap. Rhoeas (ROH-ee-as) is bastardized Greek for red, referring to the color of the blossom. Poppy is an Old English variation of Papaver. Other common names include Flanders Poppy, California Red Poppy, and Shirley Poppy.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: Corn Poppy
IDENTIFICATION: Papaver rhoesa: Stems from a large tap root, white to yellow sap, many stems, branching, green with some purple at the base; leaves alternating, lower leaves with stems, upper leaves without stems, serrated teeth, small hairs with glandular base; Flowers have four to six petals, scarlet with a black splotch (can be white) 1.5 to 3 inches wide, many stamens exceeding the pistil, anthers yellow grown.
TIME OF YEAR: May to October
ENVIRONMENT: Waste ground or disturbed ground, neither hot weather or cold weather.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves cooked, or raw in salads; petals edible, seeds edible.
* The original poem said “where poppies blow” but it was changed to where poppies grow with both words being used. The debate on how the first line should end continues. Here is the first published version:
If you’re an adult with aging eyesight Kallstroemia maxima when first spied can look like purslane. A closer examination shows it is not. But they do bear some resemblance. While purslane is a prime wild edible (and also a commercial crop) K. maxima, aka Big Caltrop, is a famine food, or an acquired taste, whichever comes first.
According to the botanical Gods there are 17 species of Kallstroemia, two local, K. maxima and K. pubescens. They are the next-to-last entry in Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida by Wunderlin and Hansen. After Kallstroemia is the genus Tribulus. T. terrestris, so-called Puncture Vine, is a questionable weight-lifting supplement. It has been implicated in gonad shrinkage. The usual explanation is T. terrestris — which is also marginally edible — provides testosterone thus the gonads do not need to make it naturally so they give up the ghost so to say and shrink… permanently. K. maxima has the basic birth control pill hormone diosgenin. As Kallstroemia and Tribulus are closely related I would not make it a habit to eat or use either a lot whether male or female.
Daniel Austin, in his book Florida Ethnobotnany, managed to craft one full page on the species. We know it’s in the Zygophyllaceae Family which includes Lignumvitae. K. maxima is the most wide-spread in Florida with K. pubescens listed as rare and only in Franklin County though it is more common in tropical area. We also know people in El Salvado and Colombia occasionally cook the young leaves of K. maxima for famine food. Medicinally the species has had many applications. It is a diuretic and a laxative. Crushed leaves have been put on boils and other sores. In Cuba concoctions are used to treat skin problems and as a decoction or a tincture for urticaria. In Venezuela it is used to treat abscesses and tumors. The species is also known to sicken domestic animals and is very toxic to sheep. However, it seeds are an important food for dove and quail.
As an aside I question the fogginess of several references regarding plant hormones. I was not allowed to take chemistry but it would seem T. terrestris, which can stimulate testosterone production, is different than K. maxima which has diosgenin. That hormone was originally isolated in yams and used to make birth control pills. More to the point calling K. maxima “green viagra” as some writers do, would seem to be heading in the wrong direction with the wrong sex. The entire plant has been reported as a contraceptive for women. That’s quite chemical difference than being an analogue molecule for or stimulant for testosterone. Diosgenin can through several processes end up as testosterone but it can also end up estrogen. Big Caltrop and Puncture Vine might be all right as a food now and then but uses beyond that — such as dried and as a supplement or tea — should come under close chemical scrutiny.
The genus is named for A. (Andrew?) Kallstroem who was a friend of the botanist Giovanni Antonio Scopoli for whom the genus Scopolia and the drug scopolamine are named. The name Kallstroem itself means “Spring River.” The common name, Caltrop, has a rich if not bloody history. It is a jack with three or four spikes that comes to rest with some spikes up. At least a thousand years ago it was thrown in front of advancing cavalry. “Caltrop” comes from calatrippe from the Latin calci —spur or heel – and trappa meaning trap… Or heel trap. And in Dead Latin the Romans called Caltrops… Tribulus which means “jagged iron.”
Green Deane Itemize Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Prostrate herb with ascending stem tips; leaves opposite, once-pinnately compound, even-pinnate; leaflet shape variable in detail, but generally oblong-elliptic with acute ends and asymmetric bases, especially so on the terminal leaflets; flowers axillary; petals yellow or pale orange; fruits spiny. Terminal leaves are usually cloven like a cow’s foot. The seeds of K. maxima are not hairy, the seeds of K. pubescens are. One give-away for me are the blossoms that form a chalice shape before opening fully.
TIME OF YEAR: It grows and blossom all year except in the most northern regions where mild winter interferes.
ENVIRONMENT: Open, disturbed habitats. That said I have seen it damp places that dry occasionally to dry spots that are only watered by rain.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves boiled.
There are edible plants, and there are non-edible plants. Then there are those that sit on the cusp of edibility: Edible but not tasty, edible in small quantities, edible but with a horrible texture, edible but strong-flavored. That’s where one finds the bitter Borrichia frutescens, aka Bushy Seaside Tansy, Sea Oxeye, Bushy Seaside Oxeye, Sea Marigold and many other names in several languages. What can you eat? Leaves cooked or raw.
In his 909-page book Forida Ethnobotany Professor Daniel Austin managed to scraped up about one page worth of information on B. frutescens or what he called the Sea Oxeye. He begins by by describing the plants as colorful in salty area, both yellow blossoms and different hued leaves. He then descends into the common lament that two species (B. frutescens and B. arborescens) have been much confused in botanical literature. He notes that both were probably used the same way medicinally. The first medical reference to them is in the 1400’s. Uses include “boiling the leafy branches and talking the decoction for colds and coughs.” That same tea was also used for whooping cough, back pain, colds, chest complaints, asthmas and malaria. Most unusually an infusion of the leaves was widely considered an antidote for eating poisoned fish (ciguaterra.)
Some references say both species have been used for food — or — folks have eaten one thinking it was the other. That’s a bit iffy as the two speices are reasonably easy to tell apart — if that is your goal. They both have a bracts (leaf or petal-like growths directly below the blossom.) If the bracts are rigid and tipped with a spine they are B. frutescens. If the bracts are soft and not tipped with a spine they are B. arborescens. Also B. frutescens has gray leaves, B. arborescens green leaves in Florida. Elsewhere they can mix and match. There is a third species as well, B. xcubana. It’s labeled rare and is found in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties (extreme south Florida and the Keys.) Austin reports that B. xcubana is a hybrid between the two aforementioned species. Its leaves are intermediate in color — like both parents — and spines on the bracts are soft.
As for edibility the references are sparse. Cornucopia II reports for the B. frutescens: “The leaves are apparently eaten in salads or as a potherb.” Julia Morton did not mention the species in her book “Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida.”
Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile
Identification: Stems usually erect, sometimes decumbent or arching. Leaves (at least mid-cauline) obovate or elliptic to oblanceolate. The single flowering head of is found on the ends of the main stem or branches of the plant. The ray flowers are yellow and the central disc flowers are brownish yellow. The heads are mature when the yellow ray flowers have fallen off, and the central disc flowers become dark brown and very hard and sharp to the touch. Each disc flower produces a dark brownish-gray indehiscent (closed) dried fruit, an achene containing a single seed. The achene is short, 0.12-0.16″ and cone-shaped with three to four angles, each tipped with a sharp tooth.
Time of year: Flowers in late spring and or summmer.
Environment: It is found in salt marshes, along dunes, at the wrack line and or in brackish locations. If covered by the wrack line it recovers quickly. Sea Oxeye grows on coasts from Virginia to the Yucatan Peninsula and also inland along the Rio Grande Vally. It is also found in the Florida Keys and has been introduced to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba.
Method of Preparation: Leaves raw (usually with vinegar in a salad) or cooked as a pot herb.
At grass conferences I have been told more than once that there are no toxic native North American grasses (the problem are the imports.) Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) delightfully falls into the native description. And at 27% protein it’s one of the more nutritious native grasses if not the most nutritious.
Among its many names are Bullgrass, Eastern Mock Gama, Fakahatchee Grass, Gamagrass, Herbe Grama, Maicilo Oriental, Pasto Guatemala, Wild Corn, Zacate Maicero and Queen of the Grasses. Eastern Gamagrass is conspicoulsly absent from Native American Food Plants by Daniel Moerman. However, most of our ethnobotanical information on Native American foods is from western Indians and this is an eastern species. We certainly know the buffalo liked it as do cattlemen. They call it Ice Cream Grass because the cattle like it so much. In fact over grazing by ranchers led to its replacement by other grasses and grains. (As a clump grass it needs to regenerate if grazed closely.)
From our point of view the edible part is a tough yellow grain. Whether it can be used for flour depends upon availability. Left unmilled the grains will pop like Strawberry Popcorn. They can also be cooked whole like wheatberries or made into a gruel.
The species can be found east of the Rocky Mountain states excluding northern New England. It is also native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. The large clumps of grass can live to be 50-years old or more. Growing to eight or nine feet tall the leaf blades are flat and long, 12 to 30 inches and up to more than an inch wide. Leaves have a well-defined mid-rib near the stalk. Flower spikes are six to 10 inches long and are made up of several spikes, often three. Similar to corn it has separate male and female flowers but unlike corn each spike has both male and female flowers. Male flower are found on the top three-quarters of the spike and female flowers on the bottom fourth. (Look for gold rice-like bits on top of the spike, and red-brown thread on the bottom quarter.) Technically it is male flowers on top with extruded anthers and cupulate fruit-cases on the bottom. One issue with the grass, however, is chill hours needed to germinate. Moist seed kept in cold storage for six to eight weeks germinate better than non-chilled seeds. There are two commercial cultivars, “Pete” and “Iuka IV.” Commercially a pound of seed costs about $20 if you order only one pound, around $17.50 per pound if you order a lot. There are 5,000 to 7,000 seeds per pound.
Flower spikes ripen from the top down. Seeds are produced from June to September. Yield is not high so it is a grain added to other mixtures unless one can find enough to make flour out of it. Efforts are underway to cross breed the plant to produce more grain but that will likely result in a hybrid with less protein content.
There is no agreement on what Tripsacum means. Many copied Internet sources say it means “polished” from the Greek verb Trivo, to polish or show signs of wear (the stem is smooth.) Frankly I think that is nonsense. I have a hard time getting triP… out of triV… Not close even considering the Dead latin influence. More so the usual botanical Greek term for polished is “gano” as in Ganoderma (polished leather.) Here’s a different view: The grains are tough. “Tripsis” in Greek — with a P not a V — means durable, tough. And “psakas” means grain or a small piece broken off. Put those together and bastardize them through Dead Latin and I can see easily Tripsacum. So I am going to say Tripsacum (TRIP-suh-kum) means “tough grain.” Dactyloides (dack-ta-LEED-deez) means finger-like, referring to the flower spikes…. ghoulish long skinny fingers…
Deer like the seed as well and the plant is the larval food of choice for the Bunchgrass Skipper butterfly. There is also a native Florida Gamagrass but it is confined to the southern part of the state, is much smaller, skinnier and endangered.Green Deane ITEMIZED Plant Profile: Eastern Gamagrass
IDENTIFICATION: Tripsacum dactyloides, fountain-like clumps to nine feet tall, 4 feet wide. The leaves erect up to 2.5 ft long and an inch wide. Stems can reach six-feet long. Distinctive flowers spikes rise above the leaves on slender stems. Spikes have many tightly fused spikelets that take on the appearance of being ‘jointed’. When in flour the spikes appear to have golden grains of rice hanging from them. Leaves lack auricles but have a ligule that is a fringe of hairs. Rootstock is usually wider than the plant one reason for its use in land reclamation.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers in late spring to mid-summer, seeds in late summer to fall. Frost colors the leaves red and bronze.
ENVIRONMENT: Moist areas around lakes, streams, swamps, ditches et cetera, full sun, fertile soil. Evergreen in frost-free areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Winnowed seeds can be used like wheat. Seed will pop like corn.
No one knows how many species of edible plants there are in the world, or in North America. In the former the guess is around 135,000, in the latter between four and six thousand, a margin of 50%. Of those perhaps 3,000 are reasonably well-known. There is still a lot to discover.
I would not be surprised to find close to two thousand edible species in Florida as it ranges over 400 miles from hilly temperate to nearly flat tropical. In fact I know of a survey that listed 1,700 edibles in the local area but that included subspecies and varieties including ferns and mushrooms. The point is one can always find an edible plant one had not known before, and that is my case a few years ago with the Modiola caroliniana (moe-DYE-oh-lah care-row-lin-knee-ANN-ah (or AIN-ah.)
I don’t lead many foraging classes in large state parks because they usually are not where the common weeds or the people are. The edible plants are also few and far between, sometimes a half a mile or more whereas in an old city park one can often find a half-a-dozen edible within a square yard.
While scouting Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge for a suitable foraging class site an odd plant presented itself under the bird observation tower — read a plant that follows man’s feet rather than traveling solely by nature. Deep green, kind of looked like plump parsley, maybe a mallow of some kind. Low growing, alternating leaves, in a wet area but growing high and dry on a dirt road in partial sun.
Such discoveries can sometimes take months, if not years to identify. This time, however, I knew exactly where to look first: Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses by the University of Florida. I am very sure I use this book far differently than the authors intended. The book was put together to help home owners and businesses identify weeds in the lawn or golf courses so as to eradicate them. While they don’t say so, about half the plants in the book are edible, with good photos and descriptions. And there on page 152 was the object of my search, the Bristly Mallow, except it isn’t a mallow… well, that depends on how you use the word. It is in the greater Malvaceae family but its genus is not Malva. In fact, the Modiola caroliniana is the only species in its genus so there are no siblings to account for.
Whether the Modiola is edible is a bit of definition as well. Cornucopia II says on page 148: “Cajuns make a refreshing drink by soaking a handful of the leaves in a quart of water for two or more hours. Many drink it every day.”
That’s good news but elsewhere the information is not so encouraging. Dr. Daniel Austin in his huge tome, Florida Ethnobotany, says on page 442 it was used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis and diphtheria; as an emollient and sedative, and to treat edema. One would presume it is a diuretic, and perhaps “refreshing” means relaxing. A cold water extract was used for a “healing bath” and it was also used for menstrual issues. It is suspected in the poisoning and paralysis of sheep, goats, and cattle. If it is troublesome to livestock in some degree or amounts it might be nitrate toxicosis, which is sometimes caused by Malva species.
It would seem on one end of the Modiola’s spectrum we have a … refreshing… drink and on the other a strong herb for medicinal uses. Approached correctly it’s probably a good plant to add to the bank of foraging knowledge.
Where the plant came from originally is not certain. Most think South America then naturalized into tropical and warmer temperate parts of the world. In the US it is reported in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania then south to Florida and west to California, up to Oregon and in Hawaii. Nevada and the northern half of the US haven’t reported it (save for Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.) Elsewhere it is found from northern Argentina north, in northern Spain, northwest Portugal, northern Morocco, South Africa, southern peninsula India, Java, New Zealand (common in the Auckland area), the Chatham Islands, Australia (southern Queensland to southeast South Australia) Tasmania, southern Swanland, Norfolk Island, the Caribbean and Atlantic islands, including Bermuda, Hispaniola and Jamaica.
Modiola is from Greek and means the center of a wheel, a reference to the seed pod. Caroliniana means from Carolina, read the eastern North America (though we now know that not to be true.)
PS: If you are thinking of buying Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses purchase it through the University of Florida. The cost is around $22 including shipping. Some folks on the Internet are charging $100 for the same book. Read about it here.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: M. caroliniana has prostrate, hairy stems, rooting at the nodes, which is also where flowering stems also grow. The leaves are variable, being up to 3 inches long to two inches wide, delta to kidney shaped, varying from shallowly toothed, to deeply toothed, 3- to 7-palmately lobed, and the lobes themselves often pinnately lobed. The small, long, hairy, persistent, stipules are leafy. Roots are tuberous.
TIME OF YEAR: Year round in warmer areas, summers in temperate areas
ENVIRONMENT: Orchards, vineyards, crop fields, gardens, urban sites, roadsides, dike roads and other disturbed, unmanaged sites.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: A drink: Soak a handful of leaves in a quart of water for two or more hours.
There is a duality to Wisteria, starting with those who think it’s an invasive weed and those who like to eat its sweet, fragrant blossoms.
That dual nature is in keeping with the Wisteria which can also be spelled Wistaria. And how the genus got its name has two stories: Some say it is named after Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761-1818) physician, anatomist, vaccination champion and abolitionist. Others say it was named for Charles Jones Wister Sr., whose father, Daniel, paid for the voyage of the Empress of China which brought a Wisteria vine to North America from China. A former privateer built in 1783, the Empress of China was the first ship to sail to China from the newly independent United States. It also carried the first U.S. representative to China. Round voyage took 14 months. What they didn’t know was Wisteria was already here.
Wiseria’s multiple personality continues with edibility. The blossoms of the plant are edible raw or cooked. The rest of the plant is toxic per se. In fact, as little as two raw seeds can kill a child. That is not uncommon for a member of the pea family which ranges from edible to toxic.
One of the most common of the 8 to 10 species of wisteria is Wisteria sinsensis, or the Chinese Wisteria, the one that hitched a ride on the Empress of China. It’s a vigorous, fast grower that doesn’t need fertilizer and fixes its own nitrogen. In fact, abuse improves blossoming as does pruning. It can live at least 144 years (as of 2014) and is consider an invasive species is some areas. It has naturalized from Maine to Florida and as far west as Arkansas. Not bad since its arrival in 1816.
And while the Wisteria might have been named for the underwriter of the ship that brought it back from China there is a native Wisteria in North America, Wiseria frutescens. It has the smallest blossoms of the Wisteria clan. W. frutescens, the American Wisteria, has flowers that are not scented, and its seed pods are smooth not velvety. It is found Virginia to Louisiana down to Florida. If you find smooth seed pods but lightly scented flowers you have the W. macostachya, or the Kentucky Wisteria, also a native (found in Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma.) To complicate things there is also Wisteria floribunda, from Japan. It is an escapee in the southern United States.
Now some qualifiers: In Japan young leaves of the W. floribunda (aka W. macrobotrys and W. multijuga)) are cooked and eaten, blossoms are blanched. The seeds are roasted. I have not tried that so I don’t recommend it. This holds true for the Wisteria venusta, or Silky Wisteria. It has white flower clusters six inches long, vine to 25 feet, 9 to 13 leaflets, counter clockwise twist. Its young leaves and young seeds reportedly cooked. Blossom have yellow blotch, AKA Wisteria brachybotrys. The seeds and leaves of the Wisteria japonica were used as a famine food — not recommended — and the flowers of the Wisteria villosa have been eaten.
As mentioned we almost know who Wisteria was named after. It is said Wiss-STEER-ree-ah. And while this is not too relevant it comes from the German/Old English word Wistar which means “steward of the food supply.” Frutescens (froo-TESS-ens) means shrubby or bushy, Floribunda (flor-ih-BUN-duh) means free flowering, many flowers, and macrostachya (mak-ro-STAY-kee uh, or mak-ro-STAK, yuh) means large (flower) spike. Venusta (ven-NUSS-tus means beautiful, charming. Wisteria is considered a pest because it will climb on virtually anything in its path. When this includes other vegetation it also spells their demise. Some can grow to 100 feet long and 15 inches through.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A leaf-losing perennial with pinnately compound leaves to 20 inches with 9 to 19 leaflets depending on species. Chinese Wisteria (W. sinsensis) has gray bark, velvety seed pods, jasimin-like fragrant flowers, twists counter-clockwise, 9 to 13 leaflets usually 11, vine can grow to 100 feet or more. flowering spikes to 12 inches.
American wisteria (frutescens) has smooth seed pods, small flowers have no fragrance, clockwise twist, 9 to 15 leaflets, vine 20 to 30 feet, occasionally longer in old specimens, long-lasting flower spike five to six inches.
Japanese Wisteria (W. floribunda) has white stems, velvety seed pods, fragrant flowers, twists clockwise, up to 19 leaflets, vine grows to 30 feet, flowering spikes to three feet.
Kentucky Wisteria (W. macrostachys) has smooth or slightly velvety seed pods, small flowers, slightly lilac scented to no scent, counter clock twist (though I think that is a observational mistake) flower spikes to a foot, 9 to 15 leaflets, vine length 20 to 30 feet. The Kentucky Wisterias was once considered a variation of the American Wisteria. It blooms at a younger age than W. frutescens.
ENVIRONMENT: Full sun and well-drained soil, natives can tolerate some moisture and are found in coastal plains and along streams.
TIME OF YEAR: Depends on species and location, mid-spring spring to early summer
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Blossoms raw or cooked, REMOVE THE STEMS!. The Japanese blanch their blossoms. Japanese Wisteria leaves boiled when young, seeds roasted, reportedly a chestnut flavor, leave also used for tea. None recommended regarding the Japanese Wisteria. Also raw seeds are toxic. The toxin is a glycoside which is usually a sugar molecule attached to a nitrogen molecule or the like and is stripped off during digestion.
I’m often asked during my classes why I mention many plants that can be used to make tea. There are two answers: One is that different teas can be pleasurable if not healthy. The other answer is more practical: Leaves that can made into tea can often be use for flavoring like a bay leaf, or, a leaf that can make a tea can be a possible marinade. Why a marinade? Flavor. The menu for the natives only changed with the season so anything they could do to improve the taste of a day-in day-out food was welcomed. Those leaves can also be stuffed into vegetables and beasts about to be roasted.
While there are many native species that can be used for tea there’s also an imported ornamental that available as well, the Bottlebrush Tree, or Callistemon citrinus (kal-liss-STEE-mawn sih-TRY-nus, or, sit-REE-nus.) It is reported that all of the Callistemon species can be used the same way but I personally don’t know that for certain. You can use either the Callistemon citrinus leaves or blossoms to make a tea or use the leaves to make a tea and use the blossom to sweeten the tea. A very close relative of the Callistemon is the Melaleuca (to see separate entry click here.) It’s leaves can also be used to make a tea and the blossom to sweeten it. The main difference between the two species is that the stamens (male parts of the flower) are generally free in the Callistemon but grouped into bundles in Melaleuca. Another difference is that Melaleucas like wet places and Callistemons dryer locations. One look, however, at the leaves, blossoms and fruit and it is clear they are related. At one time the Callistemons were in the Melaleuca genus and some botanists still put them there. As for other uses a tan dye is made from the flowers and with a mordant they dye green. A cinnamon dye can also be made from the leaves. The wood is hard, heavy, tough, and close grained. It’s used for tool handles and fuel.
Besides the Bottlebrush Tree other common names include the Red Bottlebrush, Lemon Bottlebrush, and Crimsom Bottlebrush. The genus name Callistemon was created by Robert Brown (1773 – 1858) a Scottish botanist who made significant contributions to botany by using the microscope (read making small differences into big differences.) Callistemon is two mangled Greek words, “kallis” (beautiful) and “stemon” (stamen.) Together they mean “beautiful stamens.” The species name, citrinus, means like citrus. Remember the blossom looks like a bottlebrush, not a pom-pom. If you have a pom-pom blossom you have a different species altogether. Incidentally, the name “Lemon Bottlebrush Tree” comes from the aroma of the leaves, not from any color per se.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A small tree or large shrub, 6-12 ft (2-4 m) tall and 6-9 ft (2-3 m) wide. Leaves narrow, lance shaped, leathery, distinctly citrus aroma. Fuzzy-looking flowers composed mostly of stamens. Bark moderately rough, light brown.
TIME OF YEAR: Leaves year round, blossoms heavily in early spring with red flowers followed by some blossoms in summer.
ENVIRONMENT: Native to Australia and New Caledonia it likes well-drained soil, sandy loam. Will not thrive in heavy soil or soggy ground. Can take some salt spray, likes full sun. Drought tolerant once established. While planted ornamentally in warm areas throughout the world it is naturalized in Louisiana and Puerto Rico.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Blossoms soaked in hot liquid to release nectar to sweeten, leaves used to make a tea.
How embarrassing. A week after posting the article above I found one I wrote two years earlier and never published. It was on a thumb drive, not my main computer. It has some more information:
Some plants are at the same time easy and difficult to identify. Wild grapes are a good example. The genus is usually easy to sort out but exactly which species can be elusive. The Bottlebrushes can have similar issues.
While native foragers had no issues with the Bottlebrush tree and its close relative, the Melaleuca, botanists did, eventually putting them into two different genus. The trees are clearly related and look similar from leaves to blossoms to seeds.
The main difference among them is Bottlebrush blossoms have “free” stamens and the Melaleuca bossoms have “united” stamens. What does that mean? The stamen of the bottlebrush stand apart like separate hairs whereas the Melaleuca are like upside down little brooms, many stamens on one stem. However, some botanists think this slight difference is not enough for them to be two separate species. They argue the Bottlebrushes should be merged into the Melaleucas, and some published works have done that but not without controversy. With that thought in mind also know that not all Melaleucas have cylinder-shaped blossoms. Reclassification, reunification, or agreement is probably a long ways off. Fortunately foragers are not bothered by such tempests.
The blossoms of all the Bottlebrushes (and Melaleucas) can be used to make a sweet tea, or to to sweeten other teas. Callistemon blossoms are usually red but they can also be yellow, green, orange or white. They produce a triple-celled seed capsule which remains on the tree until the plant dies or a fire causes the release of seeds. The seed capsules resemble beads on a bracelets.
Best known among the Bottleburshes for leaf tea is the Lemon Bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus aka Callistemon lanceolatus. The leaves only need to soak in hot water. While that is fairly straightforward, the question is which Bottlebrush is the C. citrinus?
The most common Bottlebrush species one will encounter locally is the C. viminalis, also called the Weeping Bottlebrush. Like a weeping willow the branches droop extensively. Its “brushes’ are very cylindrical and about six inches long. The leaves, which smell more medicinal than citrusy, are around three inches long, skinny, linear, stiletto-shaped, pointed, and drab green. The leaves lateral’s veins (coming out from the midrib) are nearly obscure. The seeds capsules are flatish on top, or “not contracted” looking like little cups almost full, a ring around the top. Locally the tree can grow to 20 feet. In Jamaica it has been used for generations for a hot drink call “tea” used for the treatment of gastro-enteritis, diarrhea and skin infections. Again, separate tests extracts were antibacterial and antifungal activity against gram-positive and gram negative bacteria.
The less common but more desirable C. citrinus weeps as well, but not as much. Its leaves smell lemony when rubbed (not crushed) and its “brushes” are slightly egg shaped and shorter than the C. viminalis, two to four inches. Young leaves of the C. citrinus are fuzzy and coppery later turning drab green. Mature leaves are about three inches long, more a long oval than stiletto shaped. The round tip has a sharp point and the leaf evergreen. The seed capsules are puckered at the top, or “contracted” with a small hole in the middle. Locally the tree grows to 10 feet or so. There are dwarf versions, so use your nose.
Be advised some websites — copying each other no doubt — say the entire tree is poisonous though they have been used to make tea for virtually thousands of years. The leaves of the genus have been studied extensively. A methanolic extract of them is antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant in activity. The extract works against both gram positive as well as gram negative bacteria as well as some fungal species.
In a 2010 report (Am. J. Applied Sci. 7 (1) 13-16) leaves of C. citrinus were shade dried for 48 hours and crushed into a powder using a blender. Six grams of powder were used in 10 ml of ethanol distilled water to make an ethanol extract and 10 mls of of methanol distilled water for a methanolic extraction. They were then centrifuged (3,000 rpms) for 15 minutes and clear liquid harvested. This was done three times then the alcohol evaporated by incubating at room temperature. They, too, had antibacterial and antifungal activity.
In their native range in Australia the Cellistemon is often the host to the larval stage of the cossid moths, Endoxyla leucomochla and Hepialidae, aka the Witchetty grub, a popular raw or cooked food of the Aboriginals. They have an almond taste with the consistency of egg and when cooked have a crispness like fried chicken.
Upright small tree or large shrub, 6′-12′ high by 6′-8′ wide. Leaves are narrow, lance shaped, and leathery, with a distinctly citrus aroma (thus the common name). Bright red, plump, bottle-brush shaped flowers composed mostly of stamens bloom off and on throughout hot weather. Bark is somewhat rough and light brown.
Molecules. 2009 Jun 2;14(6):1990-8.
Chemical composition and antibacterial activity of the essential oils of Callistemon citrinus and Callistemon viminalis from South Africa.
Oyedeji OO, Lawal OA, Shode FO, Oyedeji AO.
School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus, South Africa. email@example.com
The chemical composition and the antibacterial activity of the essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation from the leaves of Callistemon citrinus and Callistemon viminalis were analyzed by GC and GC/MS. Twenty-four and twelve components were identified for C. citrinus and C. viminalis, representing 92.0% and 98.3% of the total oils. The major components of C. citrinus and C. viminalis were 1,8-cineole (61.2% and 83.2%) and alpha-pinene (13.4% and 6.4%), respectively. The in vitro antibacterial activity of the essential oils was studied against 12 bacteria strains using disc diffusion and broth microdilution methods. The oils exhibited strong zone of inhibitions against some bacteria such as S. faecalis (20.3-24.0 mm), both strains of S. aureus (23.0-26.3 mm), B. cereus (17.3-19.0 mm) and S. macrcesens (11.3-23.7 mm) when compared to standard antibiotics gentamycin and tetracycline used as controls. Expect for P. aeruginosa and S. macrcescens, the MIC values of both essential oils ranged from 0.31-2.50 mg/mL.
Buttercups are usually considered not edible. In fact, I think they were the first plant I learned not to eat when I was just a few years old. Of the 2,252 species in the family and some 600 buttercups in the genus perhaps a dozen and a half squeak into the edible realm. Potential famine food. I also learned at an early age they grow in wet places such as near quicksand.
There is something of a debate whether true “quicksand” exists in North America. I don’t see why not. It’s liquefied soil, usually sand kept in suspension by water flowing up from underneath. Directly behind the first house I lived in there were buttercups and quicksand. Cows were known to drown there. In fact when I was four or five I fell head first into said. Was rescued by the family dog named “Sister” who wasn’t much more than a puppy herself. Thus exploring buttercups and I go way back along with falling into things. (By the way if you do find yourself in quicksand, float as you would in a pool.)
The only use for our buttercups was the childhood game of holding the yellow blossom under someone’s chin to see if they “liked” butter. The chin always lights up with a yellow glow. It took scientists a century to figure out why. You can read a web page about it here or you can read the entire article below.)
Buttercups, like horseradish, engage in chemical warfare. In horseradish the heat one tastes comes from crushing cells that hold two different chemicals apart which are only peppery when they combine. This is to discourage consumption by me, thee and the denizens of nature. The buttercup is similar in that the offending chemical, a glycoside called Ranunculin, is not a problem until the plant’s cells are crushed. Then an almost instant enzyme reaction turning Ranuculin into Protoanemonin, a bitter, irritating, yellow oil. The animals most bothered by buttercups are grazing cows then horses, sheep and pigs, the latter two sometimes suffering paralysis. Humans are rarely poisoned by buttercups because they taste so bad. It is not fatal in small amounts but a significant irritant that can make you ill with gastric distress.
So, which part is toxic? The entire plant: Sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves but the greatest concentration is in the yellow flowers, next are the shoots which have one-sixth as much. However, dried the plant can be eaten by cows. Heat also destroys the toxin. According to the late poisonous plant expert John M.Kingsbury, “as far as has been determined they [Buttercups) all contain the same toxic principle, although in varying amounts, and produce an equivalent syndrome.” Thus our goal is to use species that have small amounts and/or which can be easily removed. R. sceleratus has 2.5% Protoanemonin (dry weight basis) and R. bulbosa 1.45%. R. repens has only 0.27%.
Which ones have been consumed? Ranunculus abortivus (leaves boiled) Ranunculus acris (leaves boiled) Ranunculus aquatilis (entire plant boiled) Ranunculus bulbosus (roots, much boiled or after drying, young flowers pickled, ) Ranunculus californicus (seeds parched and pulverized, there are about 30 per pod and are approximately 18% protein, 26% oil) Ranunculus cynbalaria (mature leaves boiled) Ranunculus edulis (tubers, young stems and leaves boiled) Ranunculus ficaria (young leaves eaten raw in salads, bleached stems cooked and eaten, bulbils — both leaf axils and roots — cooked with meat and eaten, flower buds substituted for capers) Ranunculus inamoenus (roots cooked) Ranunculus lapponicus (leaves and stems boiled) Ranunculus occidentalis var. eisenii (seeds parched) Ranunculus occidentalis var. rattanii (seeds parched) Ranunculus pallasii (shoots and young roots boiled) Ranunculus polyanthemos (leaves pickled first in salt water then added to cheese) Ranunculus reptans (roots cooked on hot rocks) Ranunculous repens (leaves boiled, flowers pickled after boiling) Ranunculus sativus (raw stems eaten as is) and Ranunculus sceleratus (leaves boiled and or fermented.) R. acris, R. bulbosa, R. edulis, R. ficaria, R. repens, and R. sceleratus were introduced from Europe.
Among the Native Americans who consumed buttercups in various ways were the: Cherokee, Gosiute, Miwok, Neeshenam, Iroquois, Acoma, Inuktitut (Eskimos) Keres, Laguna, Mendocino, Pomo, Hesquiat, Makah, Quileute, and Costanoan.
John Lightfoot, who wrote Flora Scotica in 1777 said “not withstanding this corrosive quality, the roots when boiled become so mild as to become eatable.” Merritt Fernald, the grand wild food man of Harvard yard, said the R. bulbosus bulbils if overwintered and dry become mild and sweet. Medicinally the buttercups have been used in a wide variety of ways. The Illinois-Miami used them to treat arrow and later gunshot wounds, the Cherokee as a poultice on abscesses, as a sedative and for sore throats. The Iroquois used a decoction for epilepsy, blood diseases, sore eyes, stomach issues, stiff muscles, snake bite, toothaches, as an emetic, to counter poisons and to dry up smallpox sores. The Meskwaki used them externally to stop nosebleeds. John Bartram, 1751, reported Buttercups were used for syphilis, asthma, rheumatism, pneumonia and other ailments. The juice has been used to remove warts. Extracts of R. sceleratus are good against plant fungus. The native Florida Buttercup. R. abortivus was also considered a remedy for syphilis. I don’t want to know about application methods.
The genus name, Ranunculus, is Dead Latin for small frog. Pliny the Elder, 23-79 AD, used that name for the buttercup which should tell you man has been familiar with the plant family for a long time. Farmers long ago thought cows eating buttercups would improve the color of their butter. Some farmers even rubbed the yellow blossoms on the udders. Considering the flowers can be irritating that probably did not work out well. However, a tea made from buttercups and poured on the ground drives earthworms to the surface. The yellow flowers yield a light fawn dye if alum is used as a mordant, green with chrome as the mordant, and yellow with tin as the mordant. Mordants set the color on the fabric.Why Buttercups Reflect Yellow
As reported in Phys.Org scientists have discovered why buttercups reflect yellow on chins – and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you like butter. The new research sheds light on the children’s game and provides insight into pollination. Researchers found the distinctive glossiness of the buttercup flower (Ranunculus repens), which children like to shine under the chin to test whether their friends like butter, is related to its unique anatomical structure. Their findings were published 14 December, 2011, in the Royal Society journal Interface.
The researchers discovered that the buttercup petal’s unique bright and glossy appearance is the result of the interplay between its different layers. In particular, the strong yellow reflection responsible for the chin illumination is mainly due to the epidermal layer of the petal that reflects yellow light with an intensity that is comparable to glass. Scientists have been interested in how the buttercup flower works for over a century. They have previously shown that the reflected color is yellow due to the absorption of the colors in the blue-green region of the spectrum by the carotenoid pigment in the petals. As the blue-green light is absorbed, the light in the other spectral regions (in this case, primarily yellow) is reflected. It has also been known for many years that the epidermal layer of the petals is composed of very flat cells, providing strong reflection.
This new study shows how the buttercup’s exceptionally bright appearance is a result of a special feature of the petal structure. The epidermal layer of cells has not one but two extremely flat surfaces from which light is reflected. One is the top of the cells, the other exists because the epidermis is separated from the lower layers of the petal by an air gap. Reflection of light by the smooth surface of the cells and by the air layer effectively doubles the gloss of the petal, explaining why buttercups are so much better at reflecting light under your chin than any other flower.
The researchers also found that the buttercup reflects a significant amount of UV light. As many pollinators, including bees, have eyes sensitive in the UV region, this provides insight into how the buttercup uses its unique appearance to attract insects. Dr. Silvia Vignolini, lower left, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics (Cavendish Laboratory), explained the importance of the buttercup’s unique appearance: “Although many different factors, such as scent and temperature, influence the relationships between pollinators and flowers, the visual appearance of flowers is one of the most important factors in this communication. Flowers develop brilliant color, or additional cues, such as glossiness – in the case of the buttercup – that contribute to make the optical response of the flower unique. Moreover, the glossiness might also mimic the presence of nectar droplets on the petals, making them that much more attractive.”
Dr. Beverley Glover, Department of Plant Sciences, said: “This phenomenon has intrigued scientists and laymen alike for centuries. Our research provides exciting insight into not only a children’s game but also into the lengths to which flowers will go to attract pollinators.” Professor Ulli Steiner, from the Nanophotonics Center at the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics, said: “It is fun to revisit a problem that is more than one century old and, using modern methods, discover something new. The strong collaboration between Physics and the Plant Sciences has enabled this.”
Next topic to be researched: Quicksand… For you historical buff there once was a Buttercup, Texas. And for 11 weeks in 1968 the song on the top of the charts was “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundation.
If the Crepis fits….wear….ah…eat it
Crepis japonica gets no respect. When I wrote this original article seven years ago you couldn’t find Crepis japonica in field guides on edible plants. And there was very little of substance about it on the Internet other than its name. The same can also be said for its edible cousins, Crepis setosa, Crepis runcinata, Crepis glauca, Crepis capilaris, Crepis bursifolia, Crepis vesicaria and Crepis tectorum. My point, there’s an edible Crepis near you.
All these Crepis have little variations, and some are more or less bitter than the others, but they are found across North America, Europe and Asia. For such an edible group they are barely known. While this article is about the Crepis japonica there is in North America: Crepis capilaris, the Smooth Hawksbeard which is found in most northern states; Crepis glauca or Crepis runcinata, the Fiddle Leaf Hawksbeard which is found along the Rocky Mountains through the United States into Canada; Crepis tectorum, the Narrow Leaf Hawksbeard which is found in the upper half of the United States and Canada; Crepis setosa, the Bristly Hawksbeard, found in a smattering of states of no particular pattern; Crepis vesicaria, the Beaked Hawksbeard, which is found along both coasts of the United States, and Crepis bursifolia, the Italian Hawksbeard, which is found in California, and Europe. Crepis japonica is found from about Pennsylvania south in to the South and west to Texas, also in Asia. What can be said of one, applies to the others and they are used in similar ways.
My local Crepis, C. japonica (KREP-is juh-PAWN-ih-kuh) might not get much attention because they changed its name from”Japanese sandal” which was kind of cute, to ” Japanese Young” or Youngia japonica (YOUNG-ee-ah) honoring which botanist I’ve never been able to find out.) Also being called the Oriental False Hawksbeard doesn’t help. But no matter what you call it, or them, the plants do just fine and are excellent potherbs.
Personally, I prefer the name Crepis japonica than Youngia or hawksbeard. Youngia sounds a bit contrived and I have always associated “hawksbeard” with a totally different plant in a different area of the country.
As for the word “Crepis” we know that Theophrastus, the immediate successor to Aristotle in Athens, mentioned the plant by this name some 2,300 years ago, as did Pliny some 400 years later in Rome. But English-speaking botanists say they don’t know why the genus was named Crepis. They use the phrase “lost to history” to explain that when perhaps they should admit they are linguistically challenged: Knowing a non-speaking, dead form of writing — Latin — doesn’t count towards linguistic proficiency.
Three possibilities are usually offered in English for the word “crepis” (krepis) two of which are not convincing. The first definition is that it describes a step at ancient Greek temples, what we would call a fancy doorstep. I have not been able to confirm “Krepis” ever referred to a temple step, and neither can a Greek professor of Greek I know
A more common ascription is that “krepis” means slipper or sandal, some say boot. Again, research in Greek does not bear that out. But it is getting closer. A secondary use of “krepis” in non-demotic Greek is for the soft leather that makes up the soul of a shoe, back when shoes were more like pointy moccasins. And if you have fantastic eyesight and imagination the seed of the C. japonica might look like a slipper or a sandal. But that is looking very hard for an answer.
The primary use of the word “krepis” in non-demotic Greek was for a textured light cloth that had various uses including veils. From there it went into Dead Latin as “crispus, or, “crisp” meaning curled and wrinkled. Then to French and lastly to English as “crepe” as in “crepe paper.” And indeed the leaves of the C. japonica and the rest, are curled and wrinkled. Crepis explained. You read it here first in 2011 …. lost to history… what nonsense. The more I live the more I think academics are lost inside their ivory towers, or like well frogs: They know only the bottom of their well and the tiny patch of sky above.
The local Crepis, C. japonica, is native to Japan and China and was first mentioned in the United Sates in 1831. It is now found throughout the world, and in many places it grows year round.
There are about 200 Crepis worldwide and a couple of dozen in the United States. At least six are known to make a good potherb if not better than sow thistle and wild lettuce (read my separate articles about Sonchus and Lactuca which is one of several articles I have on wild lettuce.) One writer refers to Crepis as “bitter” but that has not been my experience. In fact, it’s very mild — when picked young and tender. Granted, however, bitterness may vary among species.
As you can see by the photos, it’s a low rosette with a long and skinny flower stock topped by small, dandelion-like yellow flowers, which are rather distinctive. It can blossom, seed and drop old blossoms all at the same time. And, when in seed the Crepis blossom resembles a miniature puffy, slightly ratty dandelion, about one fifth the size.
It might be easy to overlook Crepis in some landscapes but it tends to grow in colonies so you’ll spot a small stand of tall stalks with yellow flowers. It likes grassy areas and does not tolerate mowing well. The roundish dandelion-like leaves are shiny above, soft and dull underneath if not downy. Sometimes some edges of the leaves are decorated with a little dark trim. Veins are pronounced in the leaves, which curl on the edge. “Hawksbeard” also tends to have the same growing season as sow thistle and wild lettuce. Whilst you’re out collecting them keep your eye out for the “Japanese Sandal.”
While C. Japonica can be found as far north as Pennsylvania, it’s more common in the southern United States where it’s considered an invasive weed. But, isn’t that a matter of perspective? It could also be considered a free beneficial crop, along with many other plants. In fact, one study found up to two-thirds of what we call weeds in an urban setting are edible. And let us not forget, any insect that likes a dandelion, such as a nectar-seeking bee, will find the Crepis familiar territory.
Despite its low profile, figuratively and literally, Crepis might have the last laugh. It has anticancer and antiviral “activities.” A 2003 study in China showed a hot water extract of Crepis japonica inhibited cell proliferation and growth with human leukemia cells, mouse cancer cells, influenza A virus and herpes simplex type 1. An alcohol extract also worked but to a lesser degree. They think the “antiviral ingredients were likely to contain phenolic compounds including tannins….”
Not bad for a little weed that gets no respect.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile:False Hawksbeard
IDENTIFICATION: Crepis japonica: Flower: In the composite family, disk flower resembling a dandelion; Fruit; See seed. Leaves: oblong, soft, wrinkled and curly, often tinged red on the edge. Stem: Round, fuzzy, skinny, up to two feet. Seed: Seeds look like a miniature dandelion puff ball, several on one stem. Root: tap root vertical.
TIME OF YEAR: Springtime, can persist into warmer months in southern states and again in the fall through winter
ENVIRONMENT: Moist, semi-shaded to sunny areas, sandy to rich, soil, likes grassy areas and unmaintained lawns.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves can be eaten raw, better cooked as a potherb, very mild when young, boil for 10 minutes or longer.
I debated a long time whether to include Black Medic as an edible. There are several plants in that category and over time I usually land on one side or the other. Black Medic is one of them.
Black Medic itself has not been implicated in any disease that I currently know of. But one of its relatives and at least one chemical it contains has. Not exactly a smoking gun but where there is warmth there might be fire.
Black Medic is a species in the Medicago genus. Some Medicagos (Alfalfa for example) might present a health risk because they have L-canavanine. It’s an amino acid which can cause abnormal blood cell counts, spleen enlargements, or a recurrence of lupus in those who had the disease under control. Seeds and sprouts have more L-canavanine than leaves or roots. One qualifier: Heated alfalfa did not appear to cause any problems, and the thinking is heating the L-canavanine destroys its potential toxic activity. The seeds of the Black Medic might also contain trypsin inhibitors that could reduce nutritional qualities. Sprouting the seeds might eliminate that purported problem. It’s all rather iffy.
Alfalfa also has some estrogenic components, so it is not recommended for pregnant women or children, and it also increases the clotting ability of your blood, or decreases the effectiveness of such drugs as Warfarin/Coumadin. Lastly Alfalfa sprouts can appear fresh yet contain a multitude of bacteria so they are not recommended for children, those with chronic disease, or the elderly. It would seem cooking the Medicago genus is a good idea. So, if you are a healthy young man you might be able to eat a Medicago now and then and be none the worse for it. But what about Black Medic? The answer is no one really knows.
A report that California Indians used to eat the seeds of the Black Medic is a curious one. They parched them or ground them into a flour. The seeds can be beaten off ripe inflorescences over a sheet or the like to collect them. In Eurasia, where the plant is native, it was used as a potherb. Black Medic is first mentioned in the early United States in a seed catalog in Pennsylvania in 1807. The plant went west with the expansion of the nation. Oddly there seems to be no mention of the Indians eating it as a potherb (they only ate the seeds) nor any mention of Eurasians eating the seeds (they only ate the foliage.) Need could dictate that, poor record keeping, wrong questions asked, or how the plant was being used the day the chronicler visited.
According to the well-known Dr. James Duke (Medicinal Plants of China) nutritionally the leaves of the Black Medic are rather high in protein for a green. Three ounces has about 23.3 grams of protein, 3.3 of fiber and 10.3 of ash. In milligrams they have 1330 mg of calcium, 300 mg of Phosphorus, 450 mg of magnesium and 2280 mg of potassium.
Botanically the Black Medic is Medicago lupulina. Medicago (med-ik-KAY-goh) is Greek bastardized through Dead Latin. Some say the Greeks imported a grass (alfalfa) from Media (Persia now Iran.) Some say the Medes brought it with them when they invaded Greece. Regardless the Greeks called it “median grass” which in Greek is μηδική (said mee-thee-KEE.) The Romans’ called it Medica. That got botanized into Medicago when combined with agere, to bring.
Lupulina is Latin for “little wolf. Origin of the term is a bit contorted. The Black Medic blossom resembles Hops (Humulus lupulus which means “low wolf.” That hops in Germany often climbed on the Willow Wolf Tree, Lupus silicarius (wolf with silica.) That double hint towards lupus ended up Lupulina.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Black Medic
IDENTIFICATION: Medicago lupulina: Multi-branched, slender, prostrate, slightly hairy stems, 12 to 24 inches long, spreads low to the ground, does not root from nodes. Leaflets of three, center leaflet on separate petiole and longer than other two. Resembles hoop clover but has longer leafstalk, leaflets often bristle-tipped. Tightly coiled one-seed black pod. Re Black Medic and Hop Clover: Stems of M. lupulina are downy (they have white hairs.) The stems of Trifolium. dubium are almost hairless and more redish.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers April to August, seeds ripen July to September. Not frost tender.
ENVIRONMENT: Roadsides, waste areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds parched and or ground into flower. Leaves as a potherb. Chewy. Should be cooked.
I wrote this more than six years ago, but it’s still relevant:
I’m reaching retirement age. I’m also reaching the point of being tired of being told how green we are today and how ungreen we were in the past. Oh? When I was a kid:
We didn’t all drive en mass to the store to buy milk. Milk was delivered… by one man in an Oakhurst milk truck. And milk came in reusable, recyclable bottles that you could also use for other things. Baked goods were delivered the same way, in a Cushing’s Bakery station wagon. And vacuum cleaners sold door to door! How ungreen of us.
Our neighbor, who raised seven kids, washed cloth diapers because there weren’t disposables then. I wonder why no one champions recycling disposable diapers? We just toss them in land fills, vertical septic systems. And those cloth diapers were dried on a clothes line, an artifact found only in museums and my backyard. We did not use a 220-volt soon-to-wear out machine to dry clothes or start house fires. And kids got hand-me-down clothes, not the latest designed-for-them fashion seasonally. I got new clothes once a year, ordered out of a Sears catalog for school. Rummage sales were community recycling. How ungreen of us.
We didn’t get a TV until I was nine, a small black and white set we put on the window sill. It got three channels if the weather was good and you held the antenna just right. A PSB channel would not be added for a decade. Programming was wholesome and no censoring was needed for kids or grandma. We actually watched it as a family. One TV, not a TV in every room. It did not have a digital color screen twice the size of the window. How ungreen of us.
In the kitchen stuff was mixed, blended, chopped and beaten into submission by hand. No blenders, no food processors, no mixers. How many folks are willing to blend their environmentally healthy, nutritious smoothies by hand? What’s the collective carbon footprint of all those blenders macerating food from halfway around the world? We prepared our food by hand rather than buying it prepared. We never bought vegetables in a package, or hardly anything else. We put up food in reusable glass containers. It was called canning, a verb I don’t hear too often these days. And we packaged fragile items for mailing with old newspaper not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. We didn’t own plastic or paper cups or “sporks.” Anything worn out that could burn was put in the kitchen stove, broken chairs to chicken bones. It cooked our food and warmed the house. How ungreen of us.
The only stuff we threw away was stuff that would grow fungus and smell. And before that happened it was put outside for the animals. Dead motors were kept for parts, old appliances were cannibalized for cords and wire. All manner of things were taken apart and the nuts and bolts saved. We actually took down a three-car garage and used the boards and timber to build our barn. We pulled nails out of boards, pounded them straight, and reused them at a time when nails were a couple of dollars for a 50-pound keg. My mother made rugs out of rags and had a huge button box filled with buttons off every piece of clothing destined to be a rug. How ungreen of us.
Pens and cigarette lighters were refilled. We put new blades in razors, put tape on the old blades and used them around the house. The whole safety razor was not thrown away just because the blade was too dull to shave with. I still own and use two straight razors. Typewriter ribbons were re-inked, and typewriter technology barely changed every half century rather than computer seasonally. How ungreen of us.
We walked up stairs because stores did not have elevators or escalators. We mowed the lawn by hand with a push mower (or watched some domestic animal eat it.) We bought local because it was what we had. Every home had a summer garden and us kids collected return bottles for pocket change. We rolled pennies by hand. Now a machine charges you 8% to do that. I walked or rode my bike several miles to school even the in winter, and shoveled the driveway by hand. We played board game with real humans during those long winters evenings rather than buying a new game when we got bored. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t get a phone until I was 20 and in the Army. Overseas I got to call home once a year. Once. We wrote letters, now a dead art. Not every one had a cell phone or a personal computer in every pocket. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t need two or more devices bouncing and triangulating signals over thousands of miles to find the nearest pizza place. We used our nose. How ungreen of us.
What shall we call this little member of the Brassica family? Western Tansy Mustard or Tansy Mustard? We could always opt for its scientific name: Descurainia pinnata (des-kur-AY-nee-ah pin-AY-tah.)
I am hesitant to call it the Western Tansy Mustard because it definitely grows here in eastern Central Florida, hardly west unless you’re living in Europe. It’s our native tansy mustard vs. a European import (which is why it’s called “western.”)
It shares many of the characteristics of a subset of members of that popular family: Small edible leaves, spicy seeds in pods, rangy growth, the ability to survive in dry areas, and four-petaled yellow flowers resembling a cross.
Other writers say older leaves of tansy mustard are edible cooked but bitter. They say as young spring greens they can be salty. I have found them to be neither bitter nor salty and edible raw as well as cooked though the raw texture is a bit cottony. The seed pods are an interesting nibble and can be pickled but they are tiny. The seeds are edible raw or cooked and have been used as piñole. The seeds can also be used to flavor soups, as a condiment ground into a powder mixed with cornmeal, used to make bread or to thicken soups and stews. In Mexico the seeds are made into a drink with lime juice, claret and sweet syrup. That’s a lot for such a minute seed. Medically natives ground up the seeds and used them in the treatment of stomach complaints. A poultice of the entire plant was used to ease the pain of toothache. An infusion of the leaves was used as a wash on sores.
The D. pinnata grows from Quebec to British Columbia, Florida to California, and south into Mexico including Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Sonora. It was more used by Western Indian tribes than eastern because the eastern diet was supplanted by beans, maize and squash.
The Tansy Mustard was a major plant for various Indian communities. The Hohokam cultivated the plant, the Maricopa and Quechan baked the young greens in pits. They would alternate layers of greens and hot rocks then cover the top with earth. Of prime use, however, were the seeds, They were eaten by the Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Cocopa, Gosiute, Hopi, Kawaiisu, Keres, Maricopa, Mojave, Navajo, Paiute, Papago, Pima, and Quechan. Up to a century ago the seeds were still sold in large quantities near Indian villages. That’s rather amazing since the seed is about the size of the eye of a needle.
Typical preparation of the seeds was to collect them when ripe. The plants heads were shaken into baskets to collect the microscopic seeds. They were then mixed with water and eaten like a mush (they are a bit mucilagenous, perhaps why they settle tummies.) Another way was to grind them and mix with cold water and sugar, much as the modern drink is still made.
Interestingly the Pima also used the seeds to remove foreign objects from the eye. They would put one seed in the eye and it would bring out the offending debris, so they say. I’m not sure putting a mustard seed in the eye is a good idea. They can be spicy. Another non-culinary use was the Hopi mixed the ground seed with iron to make a pigment for pottery.
The Descurainia genus honors Francois Descurain, 1658-1740, a French botanist and pharmacist. “Pinnata” is from the Latin word for “feather”, describing the finely cut leaves. “Tansy” comes from the Greek word “Athanasia” meaning “immortal” in that its blooms last a long time. “Mustard” comes from the Latin word “mustum” which means “young wine” read tart, rank and or bitter.
Lastly, the Tansy Mustard is toxic to livestock in more than small quantities, especially if there is a lot of selenium in the soil. It is difficult for humans, who are not grazers, to eat that much. Grazing cattle can go blind and die from it.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: An annual cool-season forb to 2.5 feet high, usually single-stemmed, leafy, covered with fine, gray hairs. Leaves alternately along wavy stems, each divided into small segments. Flowers range from yellow to whitish, in long clusters at stem ends, four petals but oddly shaped. Very distinctive club-shaped fruit, long, round, slender, two-celled capsules filled with many small, waxy seeds. It’s a silique meaning it separates like a V-sign with your fingers but in between is a small tongue holding all the seeds.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers January to July depending upon climate, seeds pods follow quickly.
ENVIRONMENT: Plains, hills, disturbed areas, does very well in sandy soil and the desert.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves as greens or older leaves cooked. Young leaves and seeds pods as a trail side nibble or for seasoning or pickling. Seeds have many uses including drinks, breads, mush, thickener and flavoring. It picks up selenium from the soil.
Brookweed is an edible plant few know a lot about these days. Even Professor Daniel Austin, who managed to write 909 pages about ethnobotany, could only scrape up one paragraph.
Moerman does not mention the Brookweed in his book on Native American Food Plants. It escaped entry in Cornucopia II, the Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, and Edible Wild Plants, the latter by Fernald who included some mighty off-beat species in his book such as Montropa uniflora, the Indian Pipes. Brookweed also managed to not be mentioned in the Journal of Economic Botany during the last 60 or so years. Most references skip over the genus (Samolus) going from Sambucus to Sassafras which is admittedly quite tempting. On the positive side the plant is also not mentioned in Plants that Poison People by Morton, Plants That Poison by Schmutz nor in the mystery writers’ bible Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada by Kingbury. Here’s Austin’s entry from page 596 of his book Florida Ethnobotany:
“This is another medical plant that Hogan (1978) found at the pre-Columbian Glades village at Ft. Center. Here, however, apparently is the only record of indigenous use of the plants in North America. Nearby in Cuba, Samolus is considered antiscorbutic and diaphoretic and is sometimes eaten in salads or as emergency food. (Roig 1945). Although no use is given for Samolus, its Huastec name associates it with an edible plant, suggesting that it, too, was eaten (Alcorn 1984.)”
Brookweed, Samolus valerandi, has some history as an edible in Europe (as old books say it is found in the Old and the New World and even in Australia.) It grows in watery conditions and can tolerate some salinity. At least one related species tolerates high salinity. Young leaves are soft, spinach-like. When very young the leaves are bland but quickly develop a bitter flavor, which might explain their absence from the dinner menu but found in the home pharmacy. Like many such greens they were tossed into salads with a lot of other greens. In Catalonia, for example, it is a very common salad addition usually with two to three other greens. When cooked they are used the same way, an addition to not the main flavor of. In parts of Africa it is famine food, that is, eaten when preferred food is not available.
Medicinally S. valerandi has been used as an astringent, a laxative and for scurvy. It’s very high in vitamin C. Brookweed was also often used to heal wounds, rashes, chaps, and ringworm. Close relatives, the Pimpernels, were used for dropsy, epilepsy even rabies. Locally Wunderlin enumerates two Samolus in Florida, S. valerandi subsp. paraviflorus, aka S. floribundus, and S. ebracteatus also called the Limewater Brookweed. Interestingly the word “brookweed” has been around in English since at least 1624. As Florida is wet and there aren’t that many brooks the name “Pineland Pimpernel” is as good as any other.
There are about a dozen species in the Samolus genus and there is a bit of a debate on what the genus name means. It could be from the Gaelic meaning “ointment” or “plant salve.” Other translations include “Good Pig,” “Healthy Pig,” and “Pig Food.” Or Samulos might be Dead Latin for some plant the Druids used for pig medicine. Pliny the Elder reported that in the first century. Perhaps the Druid/Gaelic words came first and the Dead Latin is only echoing that use. Pliny also reported there were superstitions associated with the plant and that was used as medicine for cattle. It was harvested only while fasting, only with the left hand, and was not put anywhere “other than the trough where it is crushed.” Translations vary but what he wrote was: “Druidae Samolum herbam nominavere – hanc et sinistra manufactory legiti a jejunis counter morbos sum boumque, ne respicere legentem -” The Druids believed Brookweed could make one invisible. (Apparenlty the conquering Romans did not believe that.) Because of the plant’s common name back then some early botanists thought the plant was from the Greek island of Samos. That’s probably not true but inhabitants there did make vases that resemble the plant’s leaf shape, and the plant is common on Crete.
Valerandi is also from Dead Latin and means “full of strength.” The species was named after 16th century botanist Valerand Dourez of Lyon. An early publication, the Journal of British and Foreign Botanists, says Dourez was born in Lille, Flanders, and might have been related by marriage to the more famous botanist Johann Bauhin for whom Bauhinia is named. Though a botanist Dourez leaned towards the chemistry side. Today we would call him a pharmacist. His botanical travels included going to the Alps, Greece and Syria. In 1565 he married in Lyon then died there between 1571-75. Samolus (Samole in French) was a tribute to Dourez by his French botanists friends. And there is also some disagreement whether his name is Valerand Dourez or Dourez Valerand. I think this can be traced to a Victorian illustrator named Anne Platt (1806-1893) who wrote and illustrated over 200 books. Though publicly very popular she was never accepted by the Good-Old-Boy botanists because
she was self-taught. In 1855 she wrote Flowering Plants of Great Britain and mentions Dourez in Volume 3 page 52. Later she repeats herself (posthumously) on page 79 in an 1899 book called Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great Britain. It seems Platt is the first one to switch the names in print calling him Dourez Valerand. Unfortunately a 1985 book copied the mistake. Platt also reported that some earlier authors thought Dourez (rather than the plant) was from Samos. That is how someone who was born in Belgium and lived in France becomes on the internet a Greek from Samos with a reversed name.
Ebracteatus means without bracts, parviflorus means small leaf. Samolus in English is said SA-moe-lus or SAM-uh-lus. Valerandi is said va-LAIR-ann-dee though some might be tempted to say val-er-ANN-dee. Common names in English are the Pineland Pimpernel, Water Pimpernel, Water Chickweed, Seaside Brookweed (the name the USDA prefers) Salt Bunge, Water Rose, Water Cabbage, Florida Limewater Brookweed, and Kenningwort, the latter a rare use meaning “ulcer plant.” There is some speculation that Shakespeare mentioned it in Midsummers Night’s Dream when referencing “Dian’s Bud.” The Germans call it Samoskraut, Dutch Strandpungen and the Danes Strandsamel.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: Brookweed
IDENTIFICATION: Samolus valerandi, low to short, creeping perennial; stems branched or unbranched, erect, light-veined leaves a basal rosette of oval, alternate along the stem. White blossoms, cup-shaped, stalked, borne in lax racemes; five petals joined at half way. S. ebracteustus does not have any bracts, flowers are 5-7 mm wide, stem leaves do not extend into the inflorescence. S. valerandi has minute bracts near the middle of the pedicle, the stem leaves extend into the inflorescence, blossoms are 2-3 mm wide. Grows eight to 10 inches high. Now in their own family, Samolaceae.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers May to September depending on climate, young leave when present. Small pods ripen, darken then turn brown.
ENVIRONMENT: Slow growing. Watery places, wet grasslands, edges of streams, ditches, can thrive in salty conditions. Given a choice it likes to grow on wet gravel. Can reproduce by seeds or by leaf bud. Some report it is difficult to grow. Can grow submerged. The plant’s habitat is diminishing in France and in some areas is protected.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves raw or cooked.
Special thanks to Josey for some information used.
Do the peppery Nasturtiums make your nose twitch? Then you know how they got their common name. “Nasturtium” in Dead Latin means “twisting nose.”
Nasturtiums are among the most well-known edible flowers. Their leaves and stems are edible, too, but peppery. You can steal a snack or two out of a flower bed as long as you know the flower bed does not have any pesticides on it. Locally they like out mild-winters.
Nasturtium’s botanical name is Tropaeolum majus (trope-ee-OH-lum MAY-jus). I comes from the Dead Latin word tropaeum or trophy. That comes from the Greek word tropaio, meaning prize. Food used to be given to winners in athletic contests. The word for food in Greek is trofima. Anyway, a yellow-flowered Nasturtium twining up a post reminded Linnaeus —the fellow who started naming plants — of the practice used in ancient times of displaying shields and helmets of slain soldiers on the trunk of a tree at the scene of a battlefield. Majus means big, large or great. By the way, Latin was chosen to name plants because it is a dead language. No large group of people are speaking it as their native tongue so it is not evolving. Unlike the older, still living language of Greek, Latin is static.
Nasturtiums came to North America the long way. Discovered in Peru in the 1500’s, two species were taken back to Spain as a vegetables. It was a Dutch botanist who took the then short plants and developed the twisting vine Linnaeus named. Soon they were being grown for their flowers as well and spread across Europe. Then they came to North America with immigrants as early as 1759. Nasturtiums were also know as Indian Cress or Capucine Cress, in reference to the shape of the flower that was also similar to Capucine monks’ robe hoods.
Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden from at least 1774 on. He pickled the seeds and categorized the Nasturtium as a fruit along with the tomato (which is botanically a fruit but legally a vegetable. That came from a US supreme court ruling in the 1890s and involved different taxation rates for fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Since tomatoes — and beans — were used as vegetables rather than fruit and seeds, respectively, they were to be taxed like vegetables. ) While Nasturtiums are primarily cultivated they have escaped and naturalized in a few states and of course are wild in Peru.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow and aren’t picky about soil, light or water. Rich soil produces lots of leaves, poor soil lots of blossoms. Thus they are a natural indicator of the quality of your soil. The seeds, which germinate in a week to 10 days, are large so they make a good project for kid hands.
Dwarf Nasturtiums add a butterfly-like rainbows of color to annual beds and borders (and attract humming birds which pollinate them.) Trailing forms of Nasturtiums color fences, trellises, slopes and hanging containers. Aphids incidentally love Nasturtiums so organic gardeners like to plant them around the vegetable garden to “lure” aphids away from other plants. Nasturtium flowers, leaves and immature seed pods can be added to salads. They are rich in Vitamin C. The immature pods can be pickled and the mature seeds roasted for a peppery snack or ground and used like black pepper. My mother loved to eat their seeds. I lacto-ferment the seeds for three days, drain, then put in the frig with a little sugar and chardonnay to cover. Very tasty but they smell horrible while fermenting.
Like all wild plants with a good dose of oxalic acid they come with the warning not to eat them in large quantities. Odd that warning is never given for domesticated plants with higher levels of oxalic acid.
Dressing: 1/4 c. white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, 1 T. Dijon mustard, 1C. vegetable oil, salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 C. light olive oil, 1 T. freshly squeezed lime juice, finely grated zest of lime.
Salad: 3 heads radicchio, washed and dried, 1 small bunch of chives, 1 lb. tender spinach, trimmed, washed and dried, nasturtium blossoms.
In a bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, toss, toss greens, chives and flowers with enough dressing to coat. Yield 8 servings.
Gather medium size nasturtium leaves. Rinse with cool water and dry. Set aside. In a small bowl: mix 1 – 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened, 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained and 3 T. of any of the herb choices ( washed, dried and chopped): thyme, lemon verbena, lemon scented geranium leaves or flowers, basil, chives or rose petals – pith removed (white part at base of petal). After blending: With a knife, generously spread the cream cheese mixture on each nasturtium leaf, roll up and pile on a serving platter. Add nasturtium flowers as an accent. Recipe created by Kelly Wisner.
Steamed Beets with Nasturtium
4 whole beets steamed
6 nasturtium leaves, shredded
4 nasturtium flowers
1/3 C olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt of choice, plain or flavored
Steam peeled beets, covered, until just able to pierce them with a fork (about 30 minutes.) Cool. Cut into bite sized wedges. Whisk the dressing. Shred nasturtium leaves and sprinkle on top of beets, drizzle dressing over all. Decorate with flowers. Serves 3-4.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATIOIN: Flower: Nasturtiums grow showy with spots of bright blossoms in masses of foliage. Leaves are round and scalloped, flowers funnel shape with a spur on the underside. They come in rich shades of yellow, orange, , pink, red and brown, dwarfed to climbing, a favorite of leaf miners.
TIME OF YEAR: Plant in spring and summer in northern climes, spring, fall and winter in Florida in southern states with successive plantings. Like rich soil but can grow in sandy areas with irrigation. Tolerate neglect
ENVIRONMENT: Usually found in gardens, flower beds and flower pots. Make sure no pesticides have been used. They are naturalized in some urban areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Peppery leaves in salads or out of hand hot snack. Flowers can adorn salads, seeds can be pickled and used like capers.
The Wild Radish has an identity problem. It looks similar to it’s equally peppery cousin, the wild mustard. In fact, it really makes no difference which you have, both are edible, appear the same time and are used the same way. Both grow locally though I think radishs are more common. So, how do you tell them apart?
Wild radishes have singular flowers while mustards have a clump of flowers. The petals of the radish flowers are veined, mustard flowers are not. The seed pods of the radish are segmented, the mustard pods are not. Also wild radishes tend to grow to one or two feet high, maybe three. Wild mustards can four to six feet high. Usually just with a glance you can tell if it is a field of radis or mustards.
Like the mustard the greens of the wild radish make an excellent greens, boiled for 10 minutes or so in plenty of water. They are edible raw but can upset some tummies. In fact, many livestock owners consider the radish and the mustard toxic for the same reason, then again, cows have several stomachs to upset. I have eaten boiled radish greens for years and find them one of the tastiest short-lived plants of spring. That’s the only flaw of the Wild Radish, it’s here for a few weeks and gone. Thus for a few weeks I am busy harvesting, blanching, and freezing as much as I can process.
The blossoms are edible and the seed pods have many uses, from eaten raw to cooked to pickled. Few mention the edibility of wild radish roots. They are quite edible and remind me of kohlrabi in flavor, not a radish. They have vitamins B, C, rutin, and minerals. The tough, outer layer peels off like a separate jacket, often coming off in strips the way colors wrap around a barbershop pole. What is left is the clean, smooth, inner core of the roots. I dice them and cook them in plenty of boiling salted water for 45 minutes. Depending upon their age, they can be occasionally be fibrous but still quite tender and tasty. They do, however, smell like radishes when peeling and can fill the house with a sulfur aroma when cooking. The cooking water may also turn light tan. I like them with salt, pepper and butter. Cooked, they are not peppery at all but rather mild.
Also called the “Jointed Charlock” the Wild Radish’s name is a double take. Raphanus raphanistrum (RA-fah-nus raf-ahn-ISS-trum.) Both come from Raphanis, a Greek word that means appearing quickly. It was the the Ancient Greek name for this vegetable. “Charlock” comes via Old English from the French word “cerlic” the name for the plant.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Flower: Four sepals, four petals, six stamen, 4 long, 2 short, pistil in middle; Flowers tend to be solitary and petals clearly veined. Leaves lobbed, tough, stem round. The pods of wild radish break in fragments to expose the seed while the wild mustard open straight down the middle to expose the seed. Pods stick out around the stem like a spiral staircase. Under a yard high.
TIME OF YEAR: Springtime to summer in northern clims, winter in Florida.
ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained soil, sandy to rich, old pastures, gardens, lawns, roadside
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves as potherb, seeds for spice or flavoring, can use flowers to flavor vinegar. Some young leaves can be used raw in salads. Try a little first. Roots, peeled of outer core then boiled.
Recipe by Pascal:
Take 3 part apple cider vinegar, 2 parts white wine, 1/2 clove garlic, a bit of California Bay Leaf and Italian Spices, red chili and voila! Oh…and a dash of sea salt as well per jar. Canning it for 15 minutes (water-bath canning).
Stinging Nettles Know How
I was hiking one day when I saw what I thought was a mint I had not seen before. I picked a leaf and it bit me, badly. Welcome to the world of stinging nettles.
As luck would have it, I also picked the North American nettle that stings the worse, Urtica chamaedryoides (UR-tee-ka kam-ee-dree-OY-deez) which is a combination of Dead Latin and Living Greek that means “burning dwarf.” Modern Greeks call the nettle Tsouknida.
Humanity has been using the nettles for thousands of years. Not only are they an excellent source of food but also cordage. They also seem to be an element of grade-school torture, judging by all the videos on the Internet involving kids and nettles.
From the nutrition point of view, they pack a wallop as well. Stinging Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein and when cooked are very mild, tasting similar to spinach but slightly rougher.
Indeed, soaking, cooking, refrigerating, wilting or drying neutralizes the plant’s sting. Good as the plant is it should not be eaten after flowering. It reportedly can irritate the urinary tract, which makes some sense as it is a diuretic as well. It also gets stringy as it ages. Cooked nettles can be used in a wide variety of recipes from polenta to pesto to soup. There is a recipe below. The water you cook the nettles in can be kept for tea or as a soup base. You can also dry the leaves and use them for tea as well.
The stems of the nettles contain bast fiber and have been used the same way as flax, Caesar weed, Spanish Moss, and retted similarly. (Retting is a means of rotting off the non-fiber material of the plant. ) The fiber is more coarse than cotton, closer to burlap. Clothes have been made out of it and it was a fashion style recently.
As for stinging… I have been stung by a spurge called Cnidoscolus stimulosus and this stinging nettle (Urtica chamaedryoides.) While both bites are different I think the Urtica wins, so to speak. With me the Cnidoscolus‘ contact begins to burn slowly and intensifies over an hour or so and then goes away completely by two hours. The Urtica hits, as Shakespeare said, like a “hotspur” throbs, then lessens in an hour but stays painfully sore as a welt for several days especially after contact with water. The juice of a jewelweed or dock is reportedly a good treatment of the Urtica sting. Didn’t work. The juice of a chewed leaf is also supposed to bring relief but I can say that absolutely does not work with me. Nor plantagos or urine. A paste of baking soda did bring some relief.
There are some look-alike plants to the beginner. Two are the Pilea pumila and a new weed, the Fatoua villosa. Neither sting. It is that simple. A third plant that does not really look like the Urticas but does sting is the aforementioned Cnidoscolus stimulosus. It has deeply palmate leaves and large white flowers, at least a half inch or more across. You can see a picture of the Fatoua on the UFO page. The article on the Spurge Nettle is here.
One last word before the recipe. While folks can be allergic to stinging nettles they are also used to treat certain allergies particularly hay fever. Around the world nettles have been used for at least centuries to treat nasal and respiratory issues such as coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, whooping cough and in some cases tuberculosis. The roots are used as well as dried leaves. Apparently freeze dried leaves are the best.
6 cups fresh nettle, blanched in boiling water for a minute, drained and roughly chopped, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Place the blanched nettle, pine nuts, Parmesan, a little salt and pepper, in a food processor. Blend the mixture until the mixture is smooth, or reduce by hand. While the motor is running, or mixing by hand, gradually pour in the olive oil until well distributed.Green Deane’s :”Itemized” Plant Profile: Stinging Nettles
IDENTIFICATION: Urtica chamaedryoides: An unbranched weed one to several feet high, small inconspicuous flowers, fine bristly hairs all over the stem, leafstalks and underside of leaves. Very obvious. The bristles sting greatly when gently touched. Manhandling the plant reduces the chance of being stung as it breaks the hairs before they sting.
TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall, depending upon the climate, during Florida’s winter into spring.
ENVIRONMENT: Moist areas, along streams and woodlands, nettles are found around the world.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw or cooked but eating raw requires much skill to reduce stinging. Usually young shoots and leaves are boiled 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve the resulting water for nettle tea. Once cooked use like spinach or basil. Very nutritious. The cooking water is good as a tea or soup base. Dried leaves can be used to make tea. If you are an the trail you can use an alternative method of preparing nettles used by Ray Mears, and English wild food expert. He places the entire plant near a fire for a few minutes until it completely wilts, and that stops it from stinging. Mature stems can be used for cordage.